Biden says China has 'real problems' ahead of key U.S. summit with Xi

Mr. Biden, who like Mr. Xi arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday, has characterised the meeting as a chance to right ties that have floundered in recent years

November 15, 2023 11:10 am | Updated 11:17 am IST - San Francisco

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and China’s President Xi Jinping (L) shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 14, 2022. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in San Francisco on November 14, 2023, a day ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with American counterpart Joe Biden. Xi last traveled to the United States six years ago, and is due for lengthy talks with Biden in their first in-person meeting in a year. The two presidents are meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit as both countries seek to stabilize ties.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and China’s President Xi Jinping (L) shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 14, 2022. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in San Francisco on November 14, 2023, a day ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with American counterpart Joe Biden. Xi last traveled to the United States six years ago, and is due for lengthy talks with Biden in their first in-person meeting in a year. The two presidents are meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit as both countries seek to stabilize ties. | Photo Credit: AFP

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that China has "real problems," speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco on the eve of an eagerly awaited meeting in the U.S. city between himself and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

The leaders of the world's two largest economies will huddle on the sidelines of the APEC summit in California for their first encounter in a year as trade tensions, sanctions and the question of Taiwan have fuelled quarrels between Washington and Beijing.

Mr. Biden, who like Mr. Xi arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday, has characterised the meeting as a chance to right ties that have floundered in recent years.

"President Xi is another example of how reestablishing American leadership in the world is taking hold. They've got real problems," he told a fundraising event late Tuesday, hours ahead of his talks with the Chinese leader.

He did not elaborate.

Earlier, the President told reporters at the White House before heading to San Francisco that the U.S. is "not trying to decouple from China. What we're trying to do is change the relationship for the better."

Asked what he hoped to achieve at the meeting, he said he wanted "to get back on a normal course of corresponding; being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another if there's a crisis; being able to make sure our (militaries) still have contact with one another."

President Joe Biden steps off Air Force 1 at San Francisco International Airport as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum kicks off this week in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

President Joe Biden steps off Air Force 1 at San Francisco International Airport as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum kicks off this week in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

But Mr. Biden also warned that the United States was wary of investing in China due to Beijing's business practices.

"I'm not going to continue to sustain the support for positions where if we want to invest in China, we have to turn over all our trade secrets," he said.

The two Presidents are expected to meet for several hours Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.

The forum brings together 21 economies, which together account for about 60% of the world economy.

They are both also expected to meet major business leaders and hold a number of other bilateral meetings.

Positive momentum from November 2022 talks between Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden in Bali was derailed when the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese spy balloon, delaying a planned visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Since then, a flurry of high-level diplomacy, including Blinken's eventual trip to China in June, has signalled a willingness on both sides to mend ties.

Asked about Beijing's expectations for the summit, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry was vague, mentioning "in-depth communication" and "major issues concerning world peace."

China routinely warns it will not budge on issues it considers "red lines," such as Taiwan, a self-ruling island off its coast that Beijing claims as its own territory, and its expansion into the South China Sea.

But Washington and Beijing have recently made some progress on trade and economic relations as well as climate change talks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at San Francisco International airport to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ week in San Francisco, California, on November 14, 2023. Xi arrived in San Francisco on November 14, 2023, a day ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with American counterpart Joe Biden.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at San Francisco International airport to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ week in San Francisco, California, on November 14, 2023. Xi arrived in San Francisco on November 14, 2023, a day ahead of his highly anticipated meeting with American counterpart Joe Biden. | Photo Credit: AFP

The United States and its Western allies once viewed emerging China as a friend in waiting, believing that as it became wealthier, it would become more liberal and fit in with the U.S.-dominated global order.

But over the last decade, that view has all but disappeared in Western capitals as the openness that heralded its hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games has faded.

Beijing has become more authoritarian under Mr. Xi and increasingly begun to throw its weight around on the international stage, including spending hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure development in third countries as part of its "Belt and Road" initiative.

At the same time, making nice with China has fallen out of favour in Washington, as domestic politics have taken on an increasingly protectionist bent.

That tendency accelerated under former President Donald Trump, who delighted his base by imposing punitive sanctions on Chinese imports in what he said was a bid to re-shore U.S. manufacturing.

But the mood music has sweetened slightly in recent months, and Mr. Biden said Tuesday a less confrontational relationship with China would benefit both sides.

"If, in fact, the Chinese people, who are in trouble right now economically, if the average homeowner, if the average citizen in China, was able to have a decent paying job -- that benefits them, and benefits all of us," Mr. Biden said on Tuesday.

Mr. Xi will have dinner with top U.S. business leaders on his trip and is expected to push for a relaxation of U.S. trade curbs in his talks with Mr. Biden.

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